WHILE MANY INTELLECTUALS on the left are content to complain about America's rightward drift, Steve Kangas prided himself on a pragmatic approach. A few years ago, Kangas, a 37-year-old Internet pornographer from Las Vegas, created a Web site called "Liberalism Resurgent: A Response to the Right" designed to offer helpful tips to the action-oriented liberal. "The trick," Kangas wrote in an essay on the site, "is to find the quickest but most efficient and effective form of activism possible. Happily, there are several things you can do that take only minutes a year out of your schedule, and yet have dramatic and long-lasting effects. However, even these efforts can be wasted if they are not directed at the heart of the problem. It is absolutely critical to identify what the true core problem is, because all other problems in society stem from it."
Sometime around January 21, 1999, Kangas decided he had identified the core problem. On that day, Kangas walked into a Las Vegas gun store and paid about $ 300 for a Kel Tek 9 mm semi-automatic handgun. Returning to his $ 700-a-month two-bedroom apartment in a seedy part of the city, he prepared a meal. Then, without even cleaning the dishes, he set out to shoot Richard Mellon Scaife.
A little over two weeks later, Kangas entered an office building in downtown Pittsburgh and took an elevator to the 39th floor. The 9 mm in his pocket, he walked down the hallway peering into office suites. He stopped at the door of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, pressed his face against the glass, then walked away. Several hours later, a maintenance man found Kangas in a men's room on the same floor as the Scaife Foundation. Kangas acted strangely, and the maintenance man spoke to him for only a moment before deciding to call the police. When the maintenance man left, Kangas sat down in a stall and shot himself in the face.
Apart from a 46-word item in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette four days later, the suicide received no coverage in the press. The Internet, however, took notice. "Steve Kangas Found Shot To Death In Richard Mellon Scaife's Bathroom," read the headline over hundreds of newsgroup conversations. Scaife has long been an obsession with conspiracy nuts, both on-line and in the White House, and the theories quickly multiplied: Kangas was killed by Richard Scaife. By the American Spectator. By Juanita Broaddrick. By an as-yet unknown right-wing cabal.
Strictly speaking, of course, Kangas was killed by Steve Kangas. But if there is blame to be shared, it doesn't come from the right.
It wasn't always obvious that Steve Kangas would wind up dead in a men's room. After completing high school in North Carolina, Kangas joined the Army and apparently did well. In 1983, he graduated from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and several years later received an honorable discharge. Around 1986, he drifted to Santa Cruz, where he enrolled in the University of California and became involved in left-wing politics. In 1989, he traveled to the crumbling Soviet Union, an event he later described as "one of the most incredible experiences of my life."
Kangas left Santa Cruz in 1996 and wound up in Las Vegas, working for a time as a clerk at a company that produces statistical-analysis software for horse racing. Last summer, Kangas quit the business to start one of his own, Sunset Dreams, an Internet pornography company. Kangas shot sadomasochistic movies with a digital camera in his apartment and tried to sell them on-line. Unfortunately for him, says Denise Waddell, an acquaintance from Las Vegas, "he spent all the money on hookers." The business apparently flopped.
Meanwhile, Kangas's other on-line venture, Liberalism Resurgent, seemed to thrive. Kangas was obsessive but intelligent, and he spent a great deal of time writing essays meant to edify "workers, consumers, women, minorities, the poor, children, the elderly, environmentalists, and other historically liberal constituencies." In one essay, Kangas ranted for no fewer than 2,200 words about the effect of Pinochet's economic program on the Chilean environment. (Not surprisingly, Kangas listed Al Gore's Earth in the Balance as one of his favorite books.) In another, he attacked Christmas. "The fact is, Christmas today has become a thoroughly illiberal event, at odds with everything that liberals stand for," Kangas wrote. "Furthermore, Christmas as practiced in modern America is deeply Euro-centric and Christian."
Kangas was particularly humorless on the subject of rich people. The wealthy, he wrote, "are causing an inequality that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year." Chief among these killers, Kangas wrote, was Pittsburgh newspaper publisher Richard Scaife. Kangas accused Scaife of everything from secretly running the CIA to destroying American democracy. The charges were outlandish -- though no more so than those Geraldo Rivera regularly throws around on cable television -- but they found an instant audience. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! This site is absolutely WONDERFUL!" wrote an on-line fan named Robin P. McAlexander. "I am a high school history and government teacher, and this site will be a terrific resource for me."
At some point, Kangas began to believe the things he was writing about Scaife. "The next thing you know," says Denise Waddell, "he's in Pittsburgh."
Waddell knew Kangas fairly well over a period of a couple of years -- her husband worked with him at the horse-racing business -- but she was surprised to learn he had set out to shoot somebody. On the other hand, Waddell says, Kangas was hard to figure out. "He was always touting the little guy, the underdog," she says. "But what is pornography if not exploiting the littlest guy, the real underdog? His politics didn't seem to mesh with what he did at all." Or maybe they did.
Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.